Colin Dunlap: Hurdle There In Tough Times For Current HR Phenom Davis
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It’s good to be king.
In the case of Chris Davis, it also comes with a ton of speculation.
The 27-year-old Baltimore Orioles first baseman has belted 37 home runs through the first 95 games this season, pushing the Orioles to 10 games above the .500.
He has also, to many, appeared out of nowhere, as he’s already blown past his career-best season mark in home runs (33 last year) and arrived, firmly, as the best story in baseball without much in the way of incremental stepping.
From the bottom to the top. Directly.
And so come the questions. The ones we all knew were going to be there: Is what Davis doing natural? Or, conversely, in a game that has been (and maybe still is) riddled with performance enhancing drug use, is what Davis doing being aided by a magic, hit-it-farther substance?
From Davis — and the belief from me is that I believe him 100 percent — the resounding answer is that he is not chemically enhanced.
To wit, on Monday he offered this to the gathered media in New York at his All-Star Game availability:
“There’s no reason not to believe in me,” he said. “We’ve talked about the drug testing system. It’s super sophisticated, in my opinion the most strict in all of sports. I don’t understand really why anybody would try to cheat it. At the same time, I know it’s happened. For me, all I can do is continue to do what I’ve done and try to give the people a little bit of hope to look for in the future. I’ve always been a strong guy, I’ve always had power. It was more about consistently putting the bat on the ball, not swinging at balls 14 feet out of the strike zone.”
Funny Davis should touch on those points, because just last week, in one of the Pirates’ final games before their marvelous first-half came to a close, manager Clint Hurdle spoke of Davis. See, Hurdle was the hitting coach for the Texas Rangers when Davis was with that organization, sputtering through a 2010 season that saw him hit .192 with just one home run in 45 games.
Harkening back to then, Hurdle recalled Davis as someone who was still attempting to find his way, settle into the rigors of the big leagues.
“Fantastic talent,” Hurdle said of Davis. “You could see that at the time. I mean, that’s light-tower power. And he just wore out Triple-A pitching. [He] had a nice template of success at the Major League level, but when that was tried to be revisited and recreated, it didn’t happen with the consistency anyone wanted.”
The 2010 season for Davis — he was traded to Baltimore in July, 2011 — was more of a pronounced disappointment for Davis because he had shown promise in the past and, also, was a hometown star. Davis is from Longview, Texas, and in his rookie season with the Rangers hit 17 home runs then followed that up with 22.
In 2010, however, Hurdle was a witness to it all falling apart for the guy who is the biggest story in baseball right now.
“I’m not so sure it ever would have happened there, sometimes things aren’t meant to happen where everybody else thinks they’re meant to happen,” Hurdle said of Davis’ career with the Rangers. “Sometimes players wake up one day with their head on a pillow and get it.”
And why is that?
Why does one day, a power hitter go from a someone who can’t seemingly remember where the strike zone is to someone who no one in the American League can get out?
“Not because of a lack of coaching, or over-coaching or they’re not giving the effort, or they are giving too much effort,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes it happens when it’s supposed to happen. Can you put a date on it? I can’t put a date on the day I became a man. He arrived at being that ballplayer because of all the things that happened in his past. Maybe the new comfort zone he got in in Baltimore, the opportunity for consistent play again, lessons learned along the way… It sure is fun to watch. He’s a good kid. I’m happy for him. It hasn’t been easy for him.”
And once he’s arrived here, at the top of the home run mountain (at least for now) in some ways it has been even harder for Davis. The questions keep coming, the interrogators won’t go away — is he doing it cleanly? Is it all happening above board?
In some ways, those questions couldn’t be more unfair.
After all, we should all be innocent until proven guilty, right?
But, in another way, Davis’ stunning story is fairly being questioned by the skeptics who, in the past, have been let down by baseball before.
Only Chris Davis knows if this is all legitimate, if all those home runs are clean.
From where I sit, I believe the guy. Until he gives me reason not to.
Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.